"Abs are made in the kitchen". "You can’t out-train a bad diet". Heard of these sayings before? They may sound like cliché statements you hear around a gym, but they're actually true. To really see and feel results, it’s all about what goes in your mouth, not just how many crunches you do.
Endless stomach-toning exercises are not the single way to get a flat, feel-good tummy – it’s intelligent nutrition, too. Here's how to get rid of that last bit of belly fat with some simple changes to your diet and eating habits.
How to reduce belly fat naturally
1. Don't let stress get the better of you
Scientists have found a direct link between fat around the stomach area and increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol (1). Anxiety causes the body to produce extra cortisol, which is a hormone that encourages the body to store fat, especially in the abdominal region. While we can’t always avoid getting stressed, following a healthy meal plan and incorporating the right foods can help regulate your cortisol levels and help you get rid of belly fat fast.
2. Incorporate these 'flat-tummy' promoting foods
Here's a list of foods that burn belly fat fast :
• Good quality carbohydrates
Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars cause a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash shortly after. This causes our bodies to go into 'fight or flight' mode and cortisol levels to soar. Swapping refined, processed carbs and sugars for fruit and unprocessed whole-grain carbohydrate sources keeps your insulin levels balanced, which in turn helps regulate cortisol levels.
Fruits, such as apples and berries, and high-fibre whole-grain breads, cereals, pulses, oats and quinoa are your best flat-belly food friends here. As well as preventing the body from storing fat, whole-grain, fibre-rich foods also fight against serious health issues like obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease and are good for the digestive system – keeping you regular (which also helps keep your tummy flat).
• Lean protein
A diet high in protein, veggies and good complex carbs as mentioned above, provide a powerful combination that helps stabilize your blood sugar levels, prevents hunger and cravings and regulates cortisol levels.
Lean protein such as eggs, fish, pulses, cottage cheese, chicken and turkey breast also helps build muscle, burn fat, strengthens the immune system and keeps you feeling full. The more muscle we have, the more energy we burn at rest. This means less of the food we eat getting stored as fat and more being burned as fuel – score!
• Broccoli and other dark green vegetables
High in chromium, which helps control blood sugar levels and also prevents sugar cravings, dark leafy greens are a good source for busting belly fat fast.
This fruit is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C. Research has shown that those who have high levels of Vitamin C burn 30% more fat when they exercise (2). Not a fan of kiwi? Try oranges, grapefruit or even red peppers instead.
• Nuts and nut butters
Almonds and other nuts/nut butter, like peanut butter, are the superheroes when it comes to building muscle, keeping you satisfied, reducing cravings and burning fat. They’ve also been shown to prevent muscle loss, aging and wrinkles.
• Apple cider vinegar
Even better than lemon juice, apple cider vinegar is known to boost your metabolism, aid digestion and weight loss and prevent bloating. You can start your morning with a mug of warm water and apple cider vinegar. Add one tablespoon into a mug of warm water, add good quality honey to sweeten for taste and drink first thing in the morning. This will help keep you hydrated, cleanse your digestive system and is the perfect way to both de-bloat your body and set it up for its daily food intake ahead. It’s also great for drizzling onto salads!
• Fennel and green tea
Green tea has an antioxidant in it called EGCG, which helps boost your metabolism and gets your body to utilize fat (3). Fennel tea is a natural diuretic that helps get rid of excess stored water and bloating, promoting a flatter stomach. For best results, drink 2-3 cups of either fennel or green tea a day (opt for decaffeinated versions if you prefer).
3. Drink plenty of water and avoid fizzy drinks
Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as 1-2 glasses before every meal or snack you have. Water aids weight loss by keeping your cells functioning at their fat-burning best, and also helps your kidneys flush out excess toxins and chemicals, which may be slowing down your metabolism.
If you have difficulty drinking around two litres of mineral water a day, herbal teas, green tea (hot or iced) or lemon in hot water are all just as good. Fizzy drinks, even 'diet' ones, on the other hand, are a sure-fire way to cause bloating and a rounded belly, so stay away!
4. Slow down your eating and chew slowly
When we eat too fast we don’t give our brains enough time to realise we’re full and usually end up eating way more than we need in the process. Focus on the food you’re eating and don’t just wolf it down! Also, avoid eating dinner in front of the TV, lunch in front of your computer or doing anything else distracting while eating. Take time out to enjoy your meal and actually pay attention to what you’re having. Chewing your food properly will aid efficient digestion, stop you from overeating and reduce any uncomfortable bloating you may experience from eating too quickly – which causes you to swallow excess air. It will also ensure that your brain actually registers when you’ve eaten enough food. Try putting down your cutlery after each mouthful and only going in for the next when you have completely swallowed the last.
5. Eat a healthy mid-afternoon snack
For most people, mid-afternoon is their weak spot. They find themselves suddenly really hungry so they reach for the most satisfying thing that they can find – which is usually found in the vending machine, if at work, or a bar of chocolate, bag of crisps or those biscuits lying around at home. These foods cause your insulin and blood sugar levels to spike and then crash shortly after, leaving you feeling tired, lethargic, and even hungrier for more sugary, junk food!
On the other hand, there are those who try not to eat anything mid-afternoon, even though they're feeling hungry, in an attempt to 'hold out until dinner'. The problem with this is that when you’re ravenous, anything and everything looks and tastes delicious and it takes a lot more food to feel satisfied. Having such a large gap between lunch and dinner causes your metabolism to slow down and your blood sugar levels to drop. This, in turn, actually causes your body to hold on to fat.
Eating small, healthy snacks between meals will help keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism going strong. Try to carry healthy snacks with you if you know you’re going to be out and about for a while or working long hours and there’s a risk of this happening. Snacks should be 200 calories or less and a combination of fibre, healthy fats and protein for optimum satisfaction and blood sugar stability. Opt for snacks such as a portion of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter or whole-grain crackers with hummus.
6. Reduce sugar intake
Eating a large amount of refined sugar just contributes to ‘empty’ calories and raised insulin levels. As insulin increases fat storage, consuming large amounts of sugar (usually through processed, packaged foods and drinks) makes it harder to lose belly fat. The best thing to do to lose belly fast quickly is to carefully read all labels of food you consume and, if you want to look your best, stick to natural, wholesome foods while avoiding packaged, processed foods as much as possible. This means eating foods that are close to, if not the same as, their natural state – i.e. fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, eggs, dairy and fish. The shorter the list of ingredients on the package of food, the better it is!
By incorporating even a few of these easy tips into your everyday routine, you’re likely to notice belly fat loss results fast, and most importantly, develop a healthier eating routine that keeps your tummy feeling good and de-bloated!
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1. UMD Education: https://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_docs/publications/FS-1057%20Stress%20and%20Health.pdf
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15930480
3. Oxford Academic: https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/4/2/129/4591621